Story Summary

Dunbar Hotel Renovation

Gayle Anderson was live in South Los Angeles for the grand re-opening of the Dunbar Hotel as a residence for senior housing and low-income families.

Originally named the Somerville Hotel, the Dunbar Hotel was constructed in 1928 by Dr. John A. Somerville as one of the first upscale hotels for African Americans in Los Angeles.

Born in Jamaica, Dr. John A. Somerville was the first African American graduate of USC’s School of Dentistry and was married to Dr. Vada Watson Somerville, the school’s second black graduate. 

Because of discriminatory practices, African Americans were refused accommodations at white hotels. There were only a few African American hotels in downtown Los Angeles, including Oliver’s Palace at Ninth and Central Avenue, Lyion’s House at 11th and Central Avenue, and the Clark Hotel at Washington Boulevard and Central Avenue. 

Constructed by African American contractors and craftsman and financed by the African American community, the Somerville Hotel was a five-story, brick, Spanish Colonial revival building that was considered the most modern of its time.

The 41st Street entrance featured a flag stone patio with a mosaic-tiled fountain. Its spacious lobby was decorated with murals and fine furnishings. Also, there were stores, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, and a flower shop on the ground floor. The dining room had a seating capacity of 100 with a balcony for the orchestra. 

The Somerville Hotel’s 100 rooms on the second, third and fourth floors rented for $1.00-$2.00 per day during the late 1920s. 

There were many important events held at the Somerville Hotel, including the first meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on the west coast within the first year of its opening. After the stock market crash of 1929, Dr. Somerville sold his hotel, which was renamed the Dunbar Hotel in honor of the poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar. It was eventually purchased by Lucius W. Lomax Sr., an African American businessman. In 1931, the Dunbar Hotel was given permission to conduct a cabaret in the dining room by the Los Angeles police commission, which enabled it to become an important gathering place for jazz musicians. 

Despite changing ownership during the thirties a number of times, the Dunbar Hotel was at the heart of African American culture in Los Angeles through the 1950s. It served as the anchor of a two-block area of jazz clubs on South Central Avenue and hosted jazz luminaries such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Jimmie Lunceford as well as prominent guests such as dancer/performer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, singer Hern Jeffries, and writers Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois.

As the Civil Rights Movement grew, segregated hotels in Los Angeles began to wane as guests and visitors left the area for once inaccessible restaurants, hotels and stores. The Dunbar Hotel eventually fell into decline and closed as a hotel in the mid-1970s. It remained vacant from 1974 to 1987.

Thanks to the efforts of the Dunbar Economic Development Group, a subsidiary of the Dunbar Hotel Black Cultural and Historical Museum, Inc.,  it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. 

After a restoration plan in 1987, the Dunbar Hotel reopened in 1990 as the site of low-income housing, with a re-dedication by the NAACP. However, the city foreclosed on the property in 2008 when its owners fell behind in repaying publicly funded loans. 

Thanks to a $30 million renovation, the Dunbar Hotel reopens June 26th, as a part of the newly developed Dunbar Village, an affordable rental community for seniors and families in South Los Angeles. The Dunbar Hotel features 40 units for seniors (55+). In addition, Dunbar Village will provide forty-two 2-, 3-and 4-bedroom apartments for low-income families in two neighboring buildings named the Somerville Apartments in honor of Dr. John A.  Somerville. 

Dunbar Village features onsite management and maintenance, a laundry room, 3 large community rooms, a fitness center, computer room, 123 parking spaces, a children’s playground, barbecues and landscaped grounds. 

The Dunbar Hotel will be a tax-credit property. Program and unit eligibility will be based on household income. Income and rent limits are determined by and subject to annual adjustments published by the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC) and not subject to changed in household income. Somerville I & II apartments are project-based Section 8 buildings. Program eligibility is based on income levels as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This program is administered by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA). Tenant rent is adjusted based on changes in household income as calculated by HACLA. For more information or to download an application, click HERE

Dunbar Hotel – Dunbar Village
Grand Opening Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Now Accepting Applications for the wait list!
4207 South Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90011
(323) 238-7501

If you have questions, please feel free to call Gayle Anderson at 323-460-5732 or e-mail Gayle at Gayle.Anderson@KTLA.com

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Gayle Anderson was live in South Los Angeles for the grand re-opening of the Dunbar Hotel as a residence for senior housing and low-income families.

Gayle Anderson was live in South Los Angeles for the grand re-opening of the Dunbar Hotel as a residence for senior housing and low-income families. She spoke with City Councilwoman Jan Perry about how this new housing will improve the area.

Gayle Anderson was live in South Los Angeles for the grand re-opening of the Dunbar Hotel as a residence for senior housing and low-income families. She spoke with hotel developer Jordan Pynes about the hotel’s rennovations and the ammenities the new building has to offer.

Gayle Anderson was live in South Los Angeles for the grand re-opening of the Dunbar Hotel as a residence for senior housing and low-income families. She spoke with hotel developer Jordan Pynes about the hotel’s rennovations and showed us the building’s brand new exterior.